Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for March 2013

Write about scientists as scientists, not as… (Finkbeiner Test)

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Terrific article by Curtis Brainard in the Columbia Journalism Review:

There’s still a gender gap in the sciences, with far fewer women than men in research jobs, and those women earning substantially less, but it doesn’t help when journalists treat every female scientist they profile as an archetype of perseverance.

Such was the consensus that emerged from a discussion prompted by a March 5 post at Double X Science by freelancer Christie Aschwanden, who observed that:

Campaigns to recognize outstanding female scientists have led to a recognizable genre of media coverage. Let’s call it “A lady who…” genre. You’ve seen these profiles, of course you have, because they’re everywhere. The hallmark of “A lady who…” profile is that it treats its subject’s sex as her most defining detail. She’s not just a great scientist, she’s a woman! And if she’s also a wife and a mother, those roles get emphasized too.

Aschwanden cited a few examples littered with phrases like, “she is married, has two children and has been able to keep up with her research,” and proposed that, as a means of avoiding such gratuitous gender profiles, reporters adopt a simple, seven-part test. To pass, a story cannot mention:

  • The fact that she’s a woman
  • Her husband’s job
  • Her child-care arrangements
  • How she nurtures her underlings
  • How she was taken aback by the competitiveness in her field
  • How she’s such a role model for other women
  • How she’s the “first woman to…”

Aschwanden dubbed her checklist, “The Finkbeiner Test,” in honor of her colleague, science writer Ann Finkbeiner, who had written a post for the blog Last Word on Nothing in January about an assignment she’d received from Nature to write a profile of a female astronomer. . .

Continue reading.

I found the link in this fascinating article.

Written by Leisureguy

31 March 2013 at 4:52 pm

Think of the spills we’ll get with the Keystone XL pipeline

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Rebecca Leber at ThinkProgress:

One week after the Senate held a symbolic vote in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline, the U.S. saw two different oil spills involving Canadian tar sands crude oil.

An ExxonMobil pipeline ruptured Friday, leaking approximately 10,000 barrels of tar sands crude in an Arkansas town. As a result, 22 homes have been evacuated as officials clean up of the world’s dirtiest oil:

Exxon shut the Pegasus pipeline, which can carry more than 90,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil from Pakota, Illinois, to Nederland, Texas, after the leak was discovered on Friday afternoon, the company said in a statement.

The Keystone XL pipeline would carry almost nine times the barrels of oil as the Pegasus pipeline.

The first oil spill came Wednesday, when a train reportedly carrying tar sands oil spilled 15,000 gallons in Minnesota. Also this week, Exxon was hit by a $1.7 million fine for a pipeline that dumped 42,000 gallons of oil in the Yellowstone River in 2011 (the fine itself is a small hinderance for a company that earned $45 billion profit last year).

As one of the companies to profit from Canadian tar sands, Exxon often takes to its blog to defend its so-called safety. Big Oil lawmakers then repeat those myths despite evidence to the contrary. On Friday, the same day as Exxon’s oil spill, Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) claimed the pipeline is a “no-brainer” and passes environmental “muster.” The State Department recently issued a draft report claiming the pipeline will have no environmental impact, authored by a contractor with extensive ties to oil companies.

Written by Leisureguy

31 March 2013 at 10:34 am

American anniversaries, by Tom Englehardt

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Tom Englehardt casts an eye on some significant US anniversaries:

It’s true that, last week, few in Congress cared to discuss, no less memorialize, the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.  Nonetheless, two anniversaries of American disasters and crimes abroad — the “mission accomplished” debacle of 2003 and the 45th anniversary of the My Lai massacre — were at least noted in passing in our world.  In my hometown paper, the New York Times, the Iraq anniversary was memorialized with a lead op-ed by a former advisor to General David Petraeus who, amid the rubble, went in search of all-American “silver linings.”

Still, in our post-9/11 world, there are so many other anniversaries from hell whose silver linings don’t get noticed.  Take this April.  It will be the ninth anniversary of the widespread release of the now infamous photos of torture, abuse, and humiliation from Abu Ghraib.  In case you’ve forgotten, that was Saddam Hussein’s old prison where the U.S. military taught the fallen Iraqi dictator a trick or two about the destruction of human beings.  Shouldn’t there be an anniversary of some note there?  I mean, how many cultures have turned dog collars (and the dogs that go with them), thumbs-up signs over dead bodies, and a mockery of the crucified Christ into screensavers?

Or to pick another not-to-be-missed anniversary that, strangely enough, goes uncelebrated here, consider the passage of the USA Patriot Act, that ten-letter acronym for “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism”?  This October 26th will be the 11th anniversary of the hurried congressional vote on that 363-page (essentially unread) document filled with right-wing hobbyhorses and a range of provisions meant to curtail American liberties in the name of keeping us safe from terror.  “Small government” Republicans and “big government” Democrats rushed to support it back then.  It passed in the Senate in record time by 98-1, with only Russ Feingold in opposition, and in the House by 357-66 — and so began the process of taking the oppressive powers of the American state into a new dimension. It would signal the launch of a world of ever-expanding American surveillance and secrecy (and it would be renewed by the Obama administration at its leisure in 2011).

Or what about celebrating the 12th anniversary of Congress’s Authorization for Use of Military Force, the joint resolution that a panicked and cowed body passed on September 14, 2001?  It wasn’t a declaration of war — there was no one to declare war on — but an open-ended grant to the president of the unfettered power to use “all necessary and appropriate force” in what would become a never-ending (and still expanding) “Global War on Terror.”

Or how about the 11th anniversary on January 11th — like so many such moments, it passed unnoted — of the establishment of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, that jewel in the crown of George W. Bush’s offshore Bermuda Triangle of injustice, with its indefinite detention of the innocent and the guilty without charges, its hunger strikes, and abuses, and above all its remarkable ability to embed itself in our world and never go away?  Given that, on much of the rest of the planet, Guantanamo is now an icon of the post-9/11 American way of life, on a par with Mickey Mouse and the Golden Arches, shouldn’t its anniversary be noted?

Or to look ahead, consider a date of genuine consequence: the CIA’s first known assassination by drone, which took place in Yemen in 2002.  This November will be the 11th anniversary of that momentous act, which would embed “targeted killing” deep in the American way of war, and transform the president into an assassin-in-chief.  It, too, will undoubtedly pass largely unnoticed, even if the global drone assassination campaigns it initiated may never rest in peace.

And then, of course, there are the little anniversaries from hell that Americans could care less about — those that have to do with slaughter abroad.  If you wanted to, you could organize these by the military services.  As last year ended, for instance, no one marked the 11th anniversary of the first Afghan wedding party to be wiped out by the U.S. Air Force.  (In late December 2001, a B-52 and two B-1B bombers, using precision-guided weapons, eradicated a village of celebrants in eastern Afghanistan; only two of 112 villagers reportedly survived.)  Nor in May will anyone here mark the ninth anniversary of an American air strike that took out wedding celebrants in the western Iraqi desert near the Syrian border, killing more than 40 of them.

Nor, this July 12th, to switch to the U.S. Army, should we forget the sixth anniversary of . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 March 2013 at 8:48 am

OSHA unfortunately ignores long-term health dangers

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Ian Urbina has an interesting article (which includes a video) in the NY Times:

TAYLORSVILLE, N.C. — Sheri Farley walks with a limp. The only job she could hold would be one where she does not have to stand or sit longer than 20 minutes, otherwise pain screams down her spine and up her legs.

“Damaged goods,” Ms. Farley describes herself, recalling how she recently overheard a child whispering to her mother about whether the “crippled lady” was a meth addict.

For about five years, Ms. Farley, 45, stood alongside about a dozen other workers, spray gun in hand, gluing together foam cushions for chairs and couches sold under brand names like Broyhill, Ralph Lauren and Thomasville. Fumes from the glue formed a yellowish fog inside the plant, and Ms. Farley’s doctors say that breathing them in eventually ate away at her nerve endings, resulting in what she and her co-workers call “dead foot.”

A chemical she handled — known as n-propyl bromide, or nPB — is also used by tens of thousands of workers in auto body shops, dry cleaners and high-tech electronics manufacturing plants across the nation. Medical researchers, government officials and even chemical companies that once manufactured nPB have warned for over a decade that it causes neurological damage and infertility when inhaled at low levels over long periods, but its use has grown 15-fold in the past six years.

Such hazards demonstrate the difficulty, despite decades of effort, of ensuring that Americans can breathe clean air on the job. Even as worker after worker fell ill, records from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration show that managers at Royale Comfort Seating, where Ms. Farley was employed, repeatedly exposed gluers to nPB levels that exceeded levels federal officials considered safe, failed to provide respirators and turned off fans meant to vent fumes.

But the story of the rise of nPB and the decline of Ms. Farley’s health is much more than the tale of one company, or another chapter in the national debate over the need for more, or fewer, government regulations. Instead, it is a parable about the law of unintended consequences.

It shows how an Environmental Protection Agency program meant to prevent the use of harmful chemicals fostered the proliferation of one, and how a hard-fought victory by OSHA in controlling one source of deadly fumes led workers to be exposed to something worse — a phenomenon familiar enough to be lamented in government parlance as “regrettable substitution.”

It demonstrates how businesses at once both suffer from and exploit the fitful and disjointed way that the government tries to protect workers, and why occupational illnesses have proved so hard to prevent.

And it highlights a startling fact: OSHA, the watchdog agency that many Americans love to hate and industry often faults as overzealous, has largely ignored long-term threats. Partly out of pragmatism, the agency created by President Richard M. Nixon to give greater attention to health issues has largely done the opposite.

OSHA devotes most of its budget and attention to responding to here-and-now dangers rather than preventing the silent, slow killers that, in the end, take far more lives. Over the past four decades, the agency has written new standards with exposure limits for 16 of the most deadly workplace hazards, including lead, asbestos and arsenic. But for the tens of thousands of other dangerous substances American workers handle each day, employers are largely left to decide what exposure level is safe.

By contrast, OSHA has two dozen pages of regulations just on ladders and stairs.

“I’m the first to admit this is broken,” said David Michaels, the OSHA director, referring to the agency’s record on dealing with workplace health threats. “Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people end up on the gurney.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 March 2013 at 8:35 am

Posted in Business, Government, Health, Law

Watergate: Lessons not learned

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Michael Winship at

At moments, “The Lessons of Watergate” conference, held a couple of weeks ago in Washington, D.C. by the citizen’s lobby Common Cause, was a little like that two-man roadshow retired baseball players Bill Buckner and Mookie Wilson have been touring. In it, they retell the story of the catastrophic moment during the bottom of the last inning of Game Six of the 1986 World Series, when the Mets’ Wilson hit an easy ground ball toward Buckner of the Red Sox, who haplessly let it roll between his legs. That notorious error ultimately cost Boston the championship.

As The New Yorker magazine’s Reeves Wiedeman wrote of the players’ joint public appearance, ”It is as if Custer and Sitting Bull agreed to deconstruct Little Bighorn.” Or those World War II reunions where aging Army Air Corps men meet the Luftwaffe pilots who tried to shoot them down over Bremen.

So, too, in Washington, four decades after the Watergate break-in scandal that led to the downfall of President Richard Nixon. Up on stage was Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame, one of the first victims of Nixon’s infamous “plumbers,” the burglars who went skulking into the night to attempt illegal break-ins — including one at the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist.

“I want to add something to the history here that I’ve never told,” Ellsberg said, then asked. “Is Alex Butterfield still alive?”

A voice shouted from a corner of the room, “I’m over here.”And sure enough, it was Alexander Butterfield, former deputy to Nixon chief of staff H.R. “Bob” Haldeman, and a pivotal if accidental notable in the Watergate saga. In July 1973, Butterfield let slip to the Senate Watergate committee that Nixon made secret audiotapes of all his meetings at the White House, a revelation that cracked the scandal wide open.

We never did hear the story Ellsberg wanted to tell; he decided he needed to clear it with Butterfield before he went public. The Common Cause event was filled with such slightly surreal moments, kind of like a Comic Con for history buffs and policy wonks. Just moments before Ellsberg spoke, I had been chatting with former Brooklyn Congresswoman Liz Holtzman, when Butterfield walked over, introduced himself and told Holtzman, “I was in love with you even when I was at the White House.” Holtzman was a prominent member of the House Judiciary Committee that in July 1974 passed three articles of impeachment against Nixon. He resigned less than two weeks later. . .

Continue reading. As the article notes:

Many of them did hard time. Today, we couldn’t even get miscreant bankers to resign in exchange for their billions in bailouts, much less prosecute them for criminal behavior.

Written by Leisureguy

31 March 2013 at 8:29 am

Posted in Business, Government, Law

Palestinians Protest illegal Israeli Theft of Water Rights

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Read this Juan Cole post and watch the (3-minute) video.

Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2013 at 2:10 pm

Posted in Mideast Conflict

Barnacles on the ship of sport

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I am no fan of professional team sports, an enterprise that seems ripe with avarice, corruption, and a general contempt for good behavior. Joe Nocera has a good example in the NY Times:

In 1966, Beryl Shipley, the basketball coach at the University of Southwestern Louisiana, recruited three African-Americans to play for the Ragin’ Cajuns. Although the school, now known as the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, had accepted black students since the mid-1950s, its teams remained segregated — as did every college athletic team in the state.

Louisiana’s board of education quickly moved to stop Shipley. First, it demanded that Shipley hold practice a week earlier than N.C.A.A. rules allowed. Then, according to “Slam Dunked,” a book Shipley wrote with Ron Gomez, the board told the school that athletic scholarships could only be granted to whites. Rather than cut his players loose, Shipley funded the scholarships with money raised from local boosters.

The board of education reacted by informing the N.C.A.A. that Shipley and the university were in violation of N.C.A.A. rules.

An organization with a moral compass would have refused to allow itself to be a pawn in a segregationist effort to preserve an all-white team. But the N.C.A.A. has never had a moral compass. So instead, it assigned a new hire, Warren Brown, to investigate, and, in 1968, it issued the first in a series of harsh penalties: two years’ probation, with no television or postseason appearances during that time. Shipley left college coaching, in disgust, in 1973. Brown rose to become the N.C.A.A.’s enforcement chief.

What brought this long-forgotten story to mind was the sight, on Thursday, of another coach who’d been railroaded unfairly with the willing participation of the N.C.A.A. Tim Cohane, 70, sat in a federal courthouse in Buffalo, while his lawyer, Sean O’Leary, argued that his long-running lawsuits against the N.C.A.A., the Mid-America Conference and SUNY Buffalo, where he was once head basketball coach, deserved to be heard by a jury. Cohane’s essential complaint is that in 1999, a new athletic director, Bob Arkeilpane, ginned up a series of phony N.C.A.A. rules violations to force out Cohane. (As a state employee with a contract, Cohane was difficult to fire without cause.)

And, once again, the N.C.A.A. obliged. Although the primary alleged violation — watching prospects work out in a gym — is incredibly insignificant, the N.C.A.A. charged Cohane with unethical conduct and hit him with a dreaded “show cause” order. Any school that wanted to hire him as head coach would have had to explain its decision to the N.C.A.A. Branded with that Scarlet “A,” as O’Leary put it in court, Cohane’s career as a college head coach was over.

In legal terms, the importance of the Cohane case is that, should he win, the N.C.A.A. would be labeled a “state actor.” It would then have to employ real due process, just like any state agency. It would upend a 25-year-old Supreme Court ruling, in a famous case involving Jerry Tarkanian, the former head coach at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, that the N.C.A.A. was not a state actor. Thus it could treat those under its purview as shabbily as it saw fit — which it has done ever since.

At the hearing, the N.C.A.A.’s lawyer argued that the case should be tossed solely because . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2013 at 11:12 am

Posted in Business, Law

Evolution beyond adaptation

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Very intriguing article at Wired Science by Brandon Keim:

What explains the incredible variety of life on Earth? It seems obvious. Evolution, of course! But perhaps not the evolution most people grew up with.

Some ecologists say the theory needs an update. They’ve proposed a new dynamic driving the emergence of new species, one that doesn’t involve adaptations or survival of the fittest.

Give evolution enough time and space, they say, and new species can just happen. Speciation might not only be an evolutionary consequence of fitness differences and natural selection, but a property intrinsic to evolution, just as all matter has gravity.

“Our work shows that evolution wants to be diverse,” said Yaneer Bar-Yam, president of the New England Complex Systems Institute. “It’s enough for organisms to be spread out in space and time.”

In a March 13 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences paper, Bar-Yam and his co-authors, Brazilian ecologists Ayana Martins at the University of Sao Paulo and Marcus Aguiar at the University of Campinas, modeled the evolution of greenish warblers living around the Tibetan plateau.

The warblers are what’s known as a ring species, a rare phenomenon that occurs when species inhabit a horseshoe-shaped range. Genes flow around the ring, passing between neighboring populations — yet at the ring’s tips, the animals no longer interbreed with one another.

By the usual standards, these end populations have become new species. According to the researchers’ model of the process, no special adaptations or differences in reproductive fitness are needed to explain — or at least to computationally replicate — the greenish warblers’ divergence.

“This sounds kind of crazy, right? We normally think of species as being adapted for particular functions. They have their own role to play in a community. That’s the standard wisdom,” said theoretical ecologist James O’Dwyer of the Santa Fe Institute, who was not involved in the study.Instead, over 2,000 modeled generations, a time frame that fits with the 10,000 years that greenish warblers have ringed the Tibetan plateau’s slopes since their exposure by retreating glaciers, random genetic mutations drifted through the birds’ populations, ultimately clustering in diversity patterns resembling what’s seen in reality.

Adaptation and natural selection certainly played a part in the warblers’ evolution, said Bar-Yam, but they weren’t necessarily the driving forces. And though geography is involved, it’s very different from the population-isolating physical separation created by mountain ranges or islands. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2013 at 10:06 am

Posted in Evolution, Science

Pick your fights: Which is more harmful to children, vaccines? or coal?

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Juan Cole at Informed Comment:

Yet again, researchers have found that there is no link between vaccines and autism. It is a myth, a hysteria, and a dangerous one, since large numbers of unvaccinated children are an epidemic waiting to happen.

Why so many Americans go running off on such wild goose chases but can’t see the nose on their own faces is a complete mystery to me.

So here’s a clue. There really is something that is putting nerve toxins and other poisonous heavy metals into our water and food. It is called coal. And polluting our children’s bodies with its industrial run-off and fumes is perfectly legal. The nation’s 600 coal plants should be closed immediately and replaced with wind and solar energy.

Here’s a mini-documentary on the subject: Coal Ash Contaminates Our Lives: New Mexico Interview:

Burning coal puts extra mercury, a very toxic nerve poison, into our environment, and it ultimately accumulates in fish and in our own bodies’ fat cells. That just can’t be good for us or our children, folks. Mercury in surface water has doubled. Contact with mercury over time makes you crazy. 19th century hat makers used mercury to smooth down felt, which over time made many of them bonkers, hence the Lewis Caroll character, the Mad Hatter. But we are are all now going down the same path toward Mad Hatterdom.

And coal is why? Yes, children, coal is why.

Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2013 at 10:02 am

Can sex be considered a normal part of daily life?

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Tracy Clark-Flory has an intriguing column in Salon:

Not a day goes by where you don’t hear a lament in the media about our hyper-sexualized culture. Teen pregnancy rates, the decline in marriage, sexual assault — they’re erroneously linked to everything from pop music tarts to pornography. But the truth is, that despite its seeming prevalence, sex is rarely talked about with any openness or honesty.

That’s why Debby Herbenick, a research scientist at Indiana University and sexual health educator at the Kinsey Institute, just launched the site Make Sex Normal. In an email announcing the project, she explains that it’s her response to “a pretty tough 2012 election season in which I felt depressingly and repeatedly reminded how little information and comfort there is about sexuality and reproductive health issues.” She “kept wondering what to do,” she writes. Then she realized that she and all her sex-positive colleagues “have experienced firsthand how quickly sex becomes normal and everyday when we’re in a bubble of people who talk about it, who have sex books on their bookshelves, who teach about it, and who talk about it like it’s no big deal.” She wondered, “If more people engaged in everyday acts of sex-positivity, would change happen more quickly?” With Make Sex Normal, Herbenick is betting on it.

I relate to all that. My work life is littered with promotional sex stuff. (Did I say littered? I meant blessed.) As I type, there’s a tube of bacon-flavored lube sitting on my desk, and my laptop sits atop the tome “Guide to Getting It On.” Last week I brought home a purple silk robe that read “TROJAN Lubricants.” Literally just now a package of “before & after intimate wipes” arrived at the office. Sometimes I have to watch porn at work – for work. Basically, every day I expose my co-workers to something that in any other setting would require a write-up from H.R. — and it’s awesome! The forbidden becomes prosaic, and it’s tremendously freeing. It also totally skews my perspective of what is normal.

Herbenick is hoping to warp your perspective too. She’s soliciting photos of people doing things like “teaching a sex-ed class” and “working the phone at an HIV education center.” So far, the site features snapshots of folks with vulva puppets, sex toys and even a rainbow-clad llama. I talked to Herbenick by email — as she waited for a flight at noisy LaGuardia Airport – about what it means, exactly, to “make sex normal.”

Sex is seemingly everywhere in our culture and yet, as your site points out, we rarely ever talk about it openly or honestly. What’s that about?

The kind of sex that is often openly discussed is often sensational (e.g., headlines about rape or sex scandals), political (e.g., about DOMA or same-sex marriage) or else it’s “sexy” sex, such as in music videos, swimsuit issues or porn. There’s little space for the regular, everyday aspects of sex, bodies and reproduction that I think people need to hear and talk more about. For example, issues about sex education, circumcision, vaginal health, talking to a partner about sexual pleasure, desire, orgasm, sexual boredom, monogamy and so on. We don’t talk much about sexually transmissible infections outside of headlines about their prevalence among teenagers or older people, but there’s a lot of in-between that needs discussion.

Are there any concrete things you’d like to see happen from the site? Any political changes you’d like to see it bring about? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2013 at 9:58 am

Posted in Daily life, Education

Novel way to advance in your career

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An intriguing approach described by Susan Dominus in the NY Times:

Just after noon on a Wednesday in November, Adam Grant wrapped up a lecture at the Wharton School and headed toward his office, a six-minute speed walk away. Several students trailed him, as often happens; at conferences, Grant attracts something more like a swarm. Grant chatted calmly with them but kept up the pace. He knew there would be more students waiting outside his office, and he said, more than once, “I really don’t like to keep students waiting.”

Grant, 31, is the youngest-tenured and highest-rated professor at Wharton. He is also one of the most prolific academics in his field, organizational psychology, the study of workplace dynamics. Grant took three years to get his Ph.D., and in the seven years since, he has published more papers in his field’s top-tier journals than colleagues who have won lifetime-achievement awards. His influence extends beyond academia. He regularly advises companies about how to get the most out of their employees and how to help their employees get the most out of their jobs. It is Grant whom Google calls when “we are thinking about big problems we are trying to solve,” says Prasad Setty, who heads Google’s people analytics group. Plenty of people have made piles of money by promising the secrets to getting things done or working a four-hour week or figuring out what color your parachute is or how to be a brilliant one-minute manager. But in an academic field that is preoccupied with the study of efficiency and productivity, Grant would seem to be the most efficient and productive.

When we arrived at Grant’s office on the Philadelphia campus, five students were waiting outside. The first was a student trying to decide between Teach for America and a human-resources job at Google. Grant walked her through some other possibilities, testing her theories about potential outcomes. Although she was aware of the crowd, she seemed to be in no hurry to leave, in part because Grant was so clearly engaged. A second student came in. Then a third. Someone dropped off a bottle of wine to say thank you; another asked for a contact (Grant pledges to introduce his students to anyone he knows or has met, and they shop his LinkedIn profile for just that purpose). For every one of them, Grant seemed to have not only relevant but also scientifically tested, peer-reviewed advice: Studies show you shouldn’t move for location, since what you do is more important than where you do it. Studies show that people who take jobs with too rosy a picture get dissatisfied and quit. If you truly can’t make a decision, consider delegating it to someone who knows you well and cares about you. Is there anything else I can help you with? How else can I help? He was like some kind of robo-rabbi.

Grant might not seem so different from any number of accessible and devoted professors on any number of campuses, and yet when you witness over time the sheer volume of Grant’s commitments, and the way in which he is able to follow through on all of them, you start to sense that something profoundly different is at work. Helpfulness is Grant’s credo. He is the colleague who is always nominating another for an award or taking the time to offer a thoughtful critique or writing a lengthy letter of recommendation for a student — something he does approximately 100 times a year. His largess extends to people he doesn’t even know. A student at Warwick Business School in England recently wrote to express his admiration and to ask Grant how he manages to publish so often, and in such top-tier journals. Grant did not think, upon reading that e-mail, I cannot possibly answer in full every such query and still publish so often, and in such top-tier journals. Instead, Grant, who often returns home after a day of teaching to an in-box of 200 e-mails, responded, “I’m happy to set up a phone call if you want to discuss!” He attached handouts and slides from the presentation on productivity he gave to the Academy of Management annual conference a few years earlier.

For Grant, helping is not the enemy of productivity, a time-sapping diversion from the actual work at hand; it is the mother lode, the motivator that spurs increased productivity and creativity. In some sense, he has built a career in professional motivation by trying to unpack the puzzle of his own success. He has always helped; he has always been productive. How, he has wondered for most of his professional life, does the interplay of those two factors work for everyone else?

Organizational psychology has long concerned itself with how to design work so that people will enjoy it and want to keep doing it. Traditionally the thinking has been that employers should appeal to workers’ more obvious forms of self-interest: financial incentives, yes, but also work that is inherently interesting or offers the possibility for career advancement. Grant’s research, which has generated broad interest in the study of relationships at work and will be published for the first time for a popular audience in his new book, “Give and Take,” starts with a premise that turns the thinking behind those theories on its head. The greatest untapped source of motivation, he argues, is a sense of service to others; focusing on the contribution of our work to other peoples’ lives has the potential to make us more productive than thinking about helping ourselves.

“Give and Take” incorporates scores of studies and personal case histories that suggest the benefits of an attitude of extreme giving at work. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2013 at 9:54 am

The US Supreme Court and drug prices

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David Dayen in Salon:

The Supreme Court oral arguments on marriage equality deserved all the attention they received — but it’s another case heard this week that will affect even more people over the course of their lifetimes. And it could cost Americans millions in prescription drug bills.

The case falls within a sadly predictable continuum for the Roberts Court, which virtually always sides with the corporate litigant over the government or individual. This time, the arguments in FTC v. Actavis revolve around an insidious tactic common to the nation’s largest drug companies, and known as “pay for delay.” As a result of the likely ruling in this case, drug companies will be able to charge consumers as much as five times the potential cost of their products. And both government regulators and consumers will watch helplessly as pharmaceutical companies bribe generic drug makers to retain their exclusive holds on the lifesaving medicines we all inevitably require.

The first thing to know here is that U.S. pharmaceuticals get a very good deal from the federal government. For every new drug they produce, they get rewarded with long-term patents that grant them exclusive rights to market and sell the product for as much as 20 years – which guarantees them billions in profits and no competitors in the marketplace. Drug companies claim that they must be allowed to profit off of products they nurtured with expensive research and development. In reality, taxpayer-funded research from academia or the National Institutes of Health account for the vast majority of vital drugs brought to market every year, and R&D is a small fraction of the overall drug company budget. What’s more, drug companies routinely use their monopoly power to jack up pharmaceutical prices, which cost far more in the U.S. than anywhere in the world.

Congress tried to deal with this problem as far back as 1984. The Hatch-Waxman Act accelerated the FDA approval process for generic drugs, essentially copies of the brand-name products. Typically, generics sell at a much lower price – in most cases by 80-90 percent, which obviously makes them quite popular. So the introduction of a generic drug basically ends the profitability for the brand-name manufacturer, while delivering big benefits to the consumer. Under Hatch-Waxman, companies can sell generics before the expiration of the exclusive patent by successfully challenging the patents’ validity (and there are often grounds for such a challenge, as drug company lawyers often find every loophole imaginable to extend their patent life or acquire new patents for slightly different versions of the same drug).

So, imagine you’re a big-time drug company. You want to keep competitors off the market as long as possible. Your move is to basically sue the pants off the generic drugmaker for copyright infringement, setting in motion a long and tortuous legal process. And these usually end with “pay-for-delay” deals. The brand-name drug company pays the generic manufacturer a cash settlement, and the generic manufacturer agrees to delay entry into the market for a number of years. In the case before the Supreme Court, the drug company paid $30 million a year to protect its $125 million annual profit in AndroGel, a testosterone supplement.

It’s hard to see this as anything but bribery, designed to preserve a lucrative monopoly for the brand-name drug maker. In fact, this is what the Federal Trade Commission has argued for over a decade. They consider it a violation of antitrust law, arguing that the exchange of cash gives the generic manufacturer a share of future profits in the drug, specifically to prolong the monopoly. As SCOTUSBlog summarizes from the FTC’s court brief, in the regulator’s view, “Nothing in patent law … validates a system in which brand-name companies could buy off their would-be competitors.” Indeed, everyone wins with pay-for-delay but the consumer: the FTC estimates that the two dozen deals inked in 2012 alone cost drug patients $3.5 billion annually, with the brand-name and generic manufacturers splitting the ill-gotten profits.

The FTC has petitioned the courts a half-dozen times to shut down these pay-for-delay deals, with no success. Federal courts accepted the drug industry’s view that the deals are just standard legal settlements, which honor the patent arrangement, and do not delay the introduction of generics beyond that period. But last October, the 3rd Circuit ruled in the FTC’s favor in a deal involving the blood pressure medication K-Dur, arguing that these deals were presumptively illegal unless proven otherwise. Only then did the Supreme Court step in and decide to rule in the case. But they did not use the 3rd Circuit opinion, but a separate ruling out of the 11th Circuit, where the Appeals Court agreed with the drug companies on the harmlessness of pay-for-delay in the AndroGel case.

This is critical, because Justice Samuel Alito recused himself from the case, citing prior involvement. That creates the potential for a 4-4 split on the Court. If the Court heard the 3rd Circuit case and deadlocked, that case would stand and perhaps get used as precedent. By hearing the 11th Circuit case, a tie upholds Big Pharma’s argument that pay-for-delay schemes are presumptively legal, and the 3rd Circuit decision would essentially wither on the vine.

The eight remaining justices heard the case Monday, and as expected, the majority took the side of the drug companies and their monopoly rights. Justice Antonin Scalia argued that drugmakers could not be participating in illegal activity if they were “acting within the scope of the patent” (but the whole point is that the generic manufacturers were challenging the validity of the patents in the first place). Even Justice Sonia Sotomayor questioned whether the existence of a payment was enough to make the activity illegal. Justice Stephen Breyer weakly suggested punting to the district courts to let them make the determination of illegality on a case-by-case basis, but more justices lined up with the skeptical takes of Scalia and Sotomayor. You can read the transcript of oral arguments yourself.

The most surefire statement about the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts is that corporate interests will win the day. In the 2011-12 term, the Court sided with every case on which the U.S. Chamber of Commerce filed a friend-of-the-court brief, according to the Constitutional Accountability Center. In highly publicized cases like Citizens United and dozens of smaller but no less critical ones, the Court, especially the conservative wing, has tilted toward corporate concerns dramatically, at the expense of ordinary individuals.

In this case, . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2013 at 9:40 am

Is it possible for a corporation to remove a bad Board of Directors?

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The answer is, “No.” Prime example: Hewlett-Packard. James Stewart writes in the NY Times:

In the annals of shareholder democracy, it’s hard to imagine a more compelling case against a company’s directors than those who presided over the serial management calamities that have plagued the computer giant Hewlett-Packard in recent years.

Imagine having to run on this track record:

¶ After ousting Mark Hurd as chief executive in 2010 amid messy accusations of sexual harassment, the board hired Léo Apotheker to replace him, even though Mr. Apotheker had been fired as chief of the European software giant SAP after just seven rocky months. Most of the board didn’t bother to meet Mr. Apotheker, let alone ask him any probing questions about his tenure at SAP, before rubber-stamping the choice of the board’s four-member search committee.

¶ In 2011, H.P.’s directors unanimously approved the acquisition of the British software maker Autonomy for $11.1 billion, a deal that was considered wildly overpriced even at the time. Less than a year later, H.P. wrote off $8.8 billion of that and claimed it had been defrauded. (Autonomy officials have denied the allegations, which are being investigated by authorities in both the United States and Britain.) Some consider Autonomy to be the worst corporate acquisition in business history. In the 2012 fiscal year, H.P. wrote off a total of $18 billion related to failed acquisitions and other missteps.

¶ With Mr. Apotheker at the helm and the board backing his strategic initiatives, H.P. announced that it was considering abandoning its giant personal computer business, then changed its mind. After Mr. Apotheker had been on the job a disastrous 11 months, the board demanded his resignation, and then paid him more than $13 million in termination benefits.

Shareholders might have forgiven what Fortune magazine called a “tawdry reality show” if the stock had performed well. But from the time Mr. Apotheker was hired in September 2010 until he left in 2011, the stock went from more than $45 a share to a little more than $22. Despite a recent rally, shares are still below $24, even as the Dow Jones and Standard & Poor’s 500-stock indexes are hitting new highs.

“You really couldn’t have a stronger case for removing directors,” Michael Garland, executive director for corporate governance in the New York City comptroller’s office, told me this week. “There’s been a long series of boardroom failures that have harmed the reputation of the company and repeatedly destroyed shareholder value over an extended period of time.”

Yet all 11 H.P. directors were re-elected on March 20.

H.P. is hardly an isolated case. According to Patrick McGurn, special counsel for one of the major shareholder advisory services, Institutional Shareholder Services, shareholder efforts to remove directors in uncontested elections rarely succeed or come close, even in egregious circumstances. Last year, . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2013 at 9:37 am

Posted in Business

White men and mass shootings

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Charlotte and Harriette Childress have an interesting observation in the Washington Post:

Imagine if African American men and boys were committing mass shootings month after month, year after year. Articles and interviews would flood the media, and we’d have political debates demanding that African Americans be “held accountable.” Then, if an atrocity such as the Newtown, Conn., shootings took place and African American male leaders held a news conference to offer solutions, their credibility would be questionable. The public would tell these leaders that they need to focus on problems in their own culture and communities.But when the criminals and leaders are white men, race and gender become the elephant in the room.

Nearly all of the mass shootings in this country in recent years — not just Newtown, AuroraFort HoodTucson and Columbine — have been committed by white men and boys. Yet when the National Rifle Association (NRA), led by white men, held a news conference after the Newtown massacre to advise Americans on how to reduce gun violence, its leaders’ opinions were widely discussed.

Unlike other groups, white men are not used to being singled out. So we expect that many of them will protest it is unfair if we talk about them. But our nation must correctly define their contribution to our problem of gun violence if it is to be solved.

When white men try to divert attention from gun control by talking about mental health issues, many people buy into the idea that the United States has a national mental health problem, or flawed systems with which to address those problems, and they think that is what produces mass shootings.

But women and girls with mental health issues are not picking up semiautomatic weapons and shooting schoolchildren. Immigrants with mental health issues are not committing mass shootings in malls and movie theaters. Latinos with mental health issues are not continually killing groups of strangers.

Each of us is programmed from childhood to believe that the top group of our hierarchies — and in the U.S. culture, that’s white men — represents everyone, so it can feel awkward, even ridiculous, when we try to call attention to those people as a distinct group and hold them accountable.

For example, . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2013 at 9:34 am

Posted in Daily life, Guns

Soap works even when upside down

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SOTD 30 Mar 2013

As you see, I did an (inadvertent) experiment that showed the lather is just as good if the puck is rotated 180º.

The Omega boar did a good job. It doesn’t, of course, have the capacity of the Pro 48, but I still got three passes from one loading of the brush, and the Bathhouse Soapery’s shaving soaps are good.

My Gillette red-tipped Super Speed with a Schick Plus Platinum blade did a fine job, though today instead of a BBS shave, I had a EGS (extremely good shave). Probably time to replace the blade, but I’ll try another shave.

Creed’s Green Irish Tweed for the aftershave, and now we see March go out like a lamb this weekend.

Written by Leisureguy

30 March 2013 at 9:23 am

Posted in Shaving

GOP goes all in for the nanny state

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Never thought I’d see such an overt nanny-state proposal from the Right.

Written by Leisureguy

29 March 2013 at 3:47 pm

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Government, Law

Google’s bad direction

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Andrew Leonard has an interesting article in Salon:

A strange thing happened on Twitter in the middle of March. “Why I Left Google,” a year-old post by a former Google executive named James Whittaker, went viral, for the second time.

A fairly scathing denunciation of how Google’s corporate culture had changed for the worse, Whittaker’s post got a reasonable amount of notice when it was first published. But this time around, the buzz was louder.

Exactly how the screed was born anew is anyone’s guess. The precise mechanics of viral transmission are an enduring mystery. Maybe someone was randomly trolling  the Web, stumbled across Whittaker’s lament, didn’t notice the date was March 13, 2012, instead of March 13, 2013, tweeted it, and hit a nerve. Or perhaps one of Google’s competitorssaw an opening, and struck a clever blow of Twitter meme warfare.

The point is that there was an opening, a raw nerve aching to be hit. That same week, Google had announced that it was killing off Google Reader, probably the most widely used newsreader on the Web, beloved by exactly the kind of power users you might expect to boast legions of Twitter followers. These power users were annoyed and distressed at the imminent disappearance of a service that they depended on. They wanted an explanation. It’s possible that many of them, encountering Whittaker’s post for the first time, found something substantive to chew on in his argument that Google had sacrificed its innovative “don’t be evil” soul in the quest to maximize advertising revenue.

The Google I was passionate about was a technology company that empowered its employees to innovate. The Google I left was an advertising company with a single corporate-mandated focus.

Cue the Google backlash.

Om Malik in GigaOm:

I spent about seven years of my online life on that service. I sent feedback, used it to annotate information and they killed it like a butcher slaughters a chicken. No conversation — dead. The service that drives more traffic than Google+ was sacrificed because it didn’t meet some vague corporate goals; users — many of them life long — be damned.

Thomas Claburn in Information Week.

Trust might be earned and it might be paid for. But whatever trust Google earned in its youth, it has squandered in its adolescence.

* * *

Google is so big, so entrenched in so many aspects of our online lives, and so relentlessly active that in any given week the company makes news on multiple fronts, good and bad. It can be difficult to parse signal from noise amid all the deluge of simultaneous hype and complaints. When I told Google I was writing a story about a possible backlash, I was immediately sent a list of a half-dozen positive stories about the company that had appeared in just the last few weeks.

But in the two weeks after the announcement of Google Reader, a handful of other developments gave Google grouches even more grist to grumble. The same week that Whittaker’s post was retweeted around the world for a second time, Google banned the advertising blocking app AdBlock Plus from its Google Play app store. A few days later, SearchEngineLand’s Danny Sullivan observed that Google Alerts, a popular service that generates daily email reports on any keywords that you choose to monitor, had been effectively broken for months. And just this week, Twitter erupted with scorn at the news that Google’s legal department had objected to a Swedish effort to formalize the definition of the Swedish word for “ungoogleable” (ogooglebar) as “that cannot be found on the Web with a search engine.” (Google, in an effort to protect its trademark, wanted the definition to specify that the word meant “cannot be found on the Web withGoogle and requested the inclusion of a disclaimer noting that “Google” is a registered trademark.)

There may be valid reasons for every single one of these developments. . .

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Written by Leisureguy

29 March 2013 at 12:09 pm

Beans again

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I liked the last bunch so much, I’m making this:

In my 5.5-qt All-Clad Stainless Dutch oven I put two smoked ham shanks and about an inch of water, covered the pot, and left it in a 200ºF oven overnight. I also put 1 lb of black beans in water to soak overnight.

This morning I removed the lid of the Dutch oven, removed the shanks to a bowl, and let everything cool. When the liquid in the pot was reasonably cool, I put it into the refrigerator for a while to harden the fat, which I then removed.

I pulled the meat from the shank bones and broke it up in the pot. I drained the beans and added them as well, along with:

1 cup black rice (aka “Forbidden Rice”)
6 good-sized spring onions, chopped along with the greens
8-10 good-sized garlic cloves, minced
a good handful of julienned dried tomatoes
2 bunches of Italian parseley, chopped
2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp thyme
1 Tbsp marjoram
1.5 Tbsp smoked paprika
water to cover

I brought it to a simmer and will let it simmer until beans are done (90 minutes?).

Written by Leisureguy

29 March 2013 at 10:07 am

Posted in Food, Recipes & Cooking

Malicious Obstruction in the Senate

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Harry Reid is a dolt: at best, he’s Charlie Brown running to kick a football held by the GOP and repeatedly crashing to the ground. The editors of the NY Times comment on his latest failure:

Earlier this month, during one of his new across-the-aisle good-will tours, President Obama pleaded with Senate Republicans to ease up on their record number of filibusters of his nominees. He might as well have been talking to one of the statues in the Capitol. Republicans have made it clear that erecting hurdles for Mr. Obama is, if anything, their overriding legislative goal.

There is no historical precedent for the number of cabinet-level nominees that Republicans have blocked or delayed in the Obama administration. Chuck Hagel became the first defense secretary nominee ever filibustered. John Brennan, the C.I.A. director, was the subject of an epic filibuster by Senator Rand Paul. Kathleen Sebelius and John Bryson, the secretaries of health and human services and commerce, were subjected to 60-vote confirmation margins instead of simple majorities. Susan Rice surely would have been filibustered and thus was not nominated to be secretary of state.

Jacob Lew, the Treasury secretary, was barraged with 444 written questions, mostly from Republicans, more than the previous seven nominees for that position combined. Many were ridiculous and had nothing to do with Mr. Lew’s fitness for office, such as a demand to explain the Treasury’s social media policies, or questioning an infographic on the department’s blog eight months ago.

Gina McCarthy, the nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, is being blocked by  . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

29 March 2013 at 9:59 am

Posted in Congress, GOP, Government

Lawyers must rethink their business model

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The current model is too much like Amway for my taste. Steven Harper writes in the NY Times:

“THAT bill shall know no limits,” wrote one DLA Piper lawyer to another in 2010 in what the firm is now calling “unfortunate banter” between associates about work for a client. But what is truly unfortunate is the underlying billable-hour regime and the law-firm culture it has spawned.

Lost in the furor surrounding one large firm’s current public relations headache are deeper problems that go to the heart of the prevailing big law-firm business model itself. Regrettably, as with previous episodes that have produced high-profile scandals, the present outcry will probably pass and the billable hour will endure.

It shouldn’t. The billable-hour system is the way most lawyers in big firms charge clients, but it serves no one. Well, almost no one. It brings most equity partners in those firms great wealth. Law firm leaders call it a leveraged pyramid. Most associates call it a living hell.

In a typical large firm, associates earn far less than the client revenues they generate. For example, a client receives an invoice totaling the number of hours each lawyer spends on the client’s matters, multiplied by the lawyer’s hourly rate, say $400 for a junior associate. Most big firms require associates to bill at least 1,900 hours a year, according to a survey last year by NALP, the Association for Legal Career Professionals.

In 2009, DLA Piper announced that it had eliminated associates’ billable-hour requirements in favor of a performance-based reward system. However, the firm’s submission for the association’s current NALP Directory of Legal Employers reports that it has a “minimum billable hour expectation.” In 2011, DLA Piper’s “average annual associate hours worked” (both billable and nonbillable) was 2,462; the billable average was 1,831.

At $400 an hour, a hypothetical 2,000-hour-a-year associate generates $800,000 a year for the firm. But the firm typically pays the salaried lawyer one-fourth of that amount or less.

For associates, the goal is simple: meet the required (or expected) minimum number of billable hours to qualify for annual bonuses and salary increases. Billing 2,000 hours a year isn’t easy. It typically takes at least 50 hours a week to bill an honest 40 hours to a client. Add commuting time, bathroom breaks, lunch, holidays, an annual vacation and a little socializing, and most associates find themselves working evenings and weekends to “make their hours.” Most firms increase financial rewards as an associate’s billables move beyond the stated threshold.

For partners, . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

29 March 2013 at 9:55 am

Posted in Business, Law

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